Tag Archives: Love

Lenten Love: Make Things Better

The Lenten season has started. Lent is six weeks (excluding Sundays) dedicated to prayer, fasting, and reflection to prepare for the grand celebration of Christ conquering death and his resurrection.

When I think of Lent, I am reminded that Easter is coming. We will soon celebrate the victory of Jesus over death through his resurrection and the gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all those who believe in him. In light of this, this Lenten season invites us to a particular time of reflection about our relationship with God and how we practice what we say we believe. As we are reminded of the meaning and purpose of our faith, we are also confronted with the realization that we may not be living up to the expectations of Jesus’ teachings.

Are we living up to Jesus’ teachings? Are we there yet? If you are like me, then you are far from it. We are trying; we stumble now and then, but we are not in denial, and we are making progress, even if it is just a little bit every day. With this in mind, I invite you to a serious and responsible self-reflection about how you are living your faith, but most importantly, how your relationship is with God and with one another.

Henri Nouwen described Lent as a time to refocus, to reenter a place of truth, to find ourselves in God once again. This is precisely what I want us to do this Lenten season: to find our place in God and affirm our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Let’s begin with a simple question: how are you observing Lent?

Are you fasting, reading Scripture, praying? Great! That’s what the church traditionally has done for many centuries. Lent is a time of faith renewal as much as it may be a time of reconciliation with God. Fasting, reading Scripture, and praying are means of grace that help us be strong in our faith and close to God. So if you are practicing this, that is wonderful; keep doing it!

Today’s challenge is to go beyond a personal renewal of our faith and reconciliation with God. What if we commit to practice our faith to make the world better: more loving, more kind, compassionate, truthful, and empty of hate and evil? What if we show our faith to others in ways that make life better for them? What if we are a tangible blessing to others?

One of the most prominent critiques I make is that often, we are primarily known for what we are against than for what we offer. Our faith is more about how we make things better for all people, just like Jesus did. With this in mind, here is an idea of how we can observe Lent this year. The reading from Romans 12:9-21 using The Message translation encourages us like this:

Don’t fake your love, be real. Run away from evil; cling to good. Be good friends who love deeply. If you see someone in need, do something about it. Don’t be a cause for others to trip over but bless those even when they disagree with you. Laugh with your friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Discover beauty in everyone. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do, but be generous in your goodness to all people. And last, don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

As you can see, in this Scripture, Paul describes how Christians are to love each other and how we are to engage in our relationships with others. Paul explains that Christian behavior is doing everything for all people’s common good.

Our text doesn’t just say, “Love others more,” but it describes specific behaviors for loving others that Jesus himself modeled. This helps us see that Christian love is not just being nice to people; Christian love has a moral orientation toward the good. When we show love toward someone, we are moving them toward God’s goodness, so they too may find themselves in God. That is what Christian witness is, both during the Lenten season and throughout the year.

Since our faith is less about what we don’t do and much more about how we make things better for all people – just like Jesus did – let’s make part of our Lent resolutions to bring people to Jesus by practicing genuine love and showing generous goodness.

Featured image courtesy Ante Gudelj on Unsplash.

Brian Yeich ~ Where Is Your Zeal Focused? Lessons from Francis Asbury

On my office shelf is a 200-year-old brick from Bethel Academy, the first Methodist school in the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains, established by circuit riding Methodist preacher Francis Asbury in 1790. From those roots sprang Asbury College in 1890 and Asbury Theological Seminary in 1923.

You might look at that brick on my shelf and think it’s just an old brick. But to me, that brick is a reminder of the faithfulness and zeal of Francis Asbury as he worked to, “spread scriptural holiness across the land.” It’s also a reminder of the subsequent faithfulness of John Wesley Hughes as he founded Asbury College and Henry Clay Morrison as he founded Asbury Theological Seminary.

A brick from the original Bethel Academy. Photo courtesy Dr. Brian Yeich.

In 2 Timothy 4 Paul implores Timothy to preach the word…”I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” – (2 Timothy 4:1–2, ESV)

Paul regards Timothy as being in a crisis in which he must make positive action. He must preach the word in which he has been nurtured as never before. The verb behind the words, “be prepared in season and out of season” (ephistēmi) means “to stand by, be at hand.”

In our Methodist history, Francis Asbury is one of the great examples we have of what it looks like to follow Paul’s advice to Timothy. Asbury’s zeal for God and commitment to preach and teach the gospel are now legendary, but they were never meant to be extraordinary – it was meant to be the ordinary work of everyday Methodists.

According to John Wigger, the author of American Saint, Francis Asbury communicated the vision of the Methodist movement in America in four important ways.

1. First and foremost, his personal piety and perseverance were rooted in his own conversion. In other words, Asbury was a disciple of Jesus.

He was moved by the zeal of Methodist preachers and found forgiveness and assurance in Christ in his mid-teens; by the age of 17 he had started preaching. He understood that his conversion was only the beginning of his life in Christ and began earnestly seeking sanctification by joining a Wesley band (small, intentional discipleship group). His faith was tested as he and other Methodist preachers were assaulted with dead cats (!), beaten, and otherwise harassed for their zeal.

Asbury was tried and tested in the American frontier as well, but even his opponents noted his deep, abiding faith. Even James O’Kelly, leader of the first Methodist split, remarked that Asbury possessed, “cogent zeal and unwearied diligence in spite of every disappointment.” Asbury was grounded in a deep faith that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was unshakable.

2.  He had the ability to connect to ordinary people: he wasn’t actually a strong preacher. Wigger notes that Francis Asbury was not known as a great preacher, but nonetheless that he connected with people one-on-one and in small groups.

In an era before modern photography or Instagram, it is said that he was more visibly recognizable in his day than either George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. As Wigger notes, “People found Asbury approachable and willing to listen to their concerns, more than they found him full of inspiring ideas.”[1] Asbury was intensely relational in his approach to ministry.

3. He understood and leveraged popular culture – but failing to confront it haunted him.

While never compromising on preaching the Gospel, Asbury didn’t try to fit English Methodism into the American frontier, but rather found ways to make the good news relevant in the wild, untamed new country, whether through camp meetings or emotional expressions of worship. He also worked within the tension between the dominant culture around him and the Gospel.

However, his cultural relevancy exacted a price as Asbury did not confront Southern slavery – a decision that haunted him.

4. He helped organize the Methodist movement in America. The keystone to the Wesleyan revivals was found in practicing Christian disciplines. Each Methodist was expected to, “live out their salvation with fear and trembling,” by attending to the means of grace and living in intentional, accountable community.

“Methodists succeeded where other religious groups failed largely because they were more disciplined.”[2] The early American Methodists lived in expectant hope that God could do more in their lives than they could ever imagine. Asbury was able to leverage Wesley’s organizational method that enabled the Methodists to continue to be a movement.

Perhaps most importantly, Asbury lived out Wesley’s admonition regarding the “order” of zeal. In Wesley’s Sermon On Zeal he proposed that our zeal should follow a particular order:

12. Take then the whole of religion together, just as God has revealed it in his word; and be uniformly zealous for every part of it, according to its degree of excellence. Grounding all your zeal on the one foundation, “Jesus Christ and him crucified;” holding fast this one principle, “The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved ME, and gave himself for ME;” proportion your zeal to the value of its object. Be calmly zealous, therefore, first, for the Church; “the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here on earth:” and in particular for that branch thereof with which you are more immediately connected. Be more zealous for all those ordinances which our blessed Lord hath appointed, to continue therein to the end of the world. Be more zealous for those works of mercy, those “sacrifices wherewith God is well pleased,” those marks whereby the Shepherd of Israel will know his sheep at the last day. Be more zealous still for holy tempers, for long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, lowliness, and resignation; but be most zealous of all for love, the queen of all graces, the highest perfection in earth or heaven, the very image of the invisible God, as in men below, so in angels above. For “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.”[3]

How did Wesley “order” zeal?

1. Love of God – Lived through our own conversion and call in response to God’s love for us through Christ

2. Character – The fruit of the Spirit

3. The Means of Grace – The disciplined Christian life expressed in living out works of mercy and works of piety

4. The Church – The community of believers in general and the particular branch with which you connect

Francis Asbury knew that to get this order of zeal turned upside down would spell doom for his own soul as well as the movement. As my mentor Phil Meadows says, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” Wesley and Asbury both knew that the love of God in their own hearts was first priority. We cannot give away what we don’t have.

Asbury lived in a time of uncertainty – the American Revolution had left the Methodists with a lack of leaders and a less than stellar reputation. Yet, by the grace and power of God, this group of pioneers led by Asbury “spread scriptural holiness across the land.” Perhaps we might say, “well, Asbury was just extraordinary.” However, I don’t think his zeal was meant to be extraordinary – it was meant to be the ordinary work of everyday Methodists. Perhaps now, more than ever, is a time for us to examine our own “order of zeal.”

[1] American Saint, p. 7.

[2] American Saint, p. 10.

[3] On Zeal, John Wesley

Michelle Bauer ~ What It Means to Be Rooted and Established in God’s Love

What is it like to rest in God’s wide and long and high and deep love for you?  If you could choose how God expresses his love to you today, what would you ask for? Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote to some early Mediterranean Christians:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3: 14-21    

God promises to strengthen us in our inner being. Take a moment to consider your inner being. What part of you – soul, spirit, mind, emotions, memories, fears, desires – would benefit from God’s strengthening? What efforts have you made to try to strengthen yourself? What have those results looked like? Talk to God about your willingness to surrender your core being to his work.

God’s strength becomes available to us when we are rooted and established in his love. In what other things are you tempted to root yourself? What in your life makes you feel secure and established? Ask the Spirit what it means to be rooted and established in God’s love and listen for the answer.

Verse 19 describes, “love that surpasses knowledge.” Where do you picture yourself on the journey of experiencing this kind of love from God? Where would you like to be? The author’s prayer is that you would be able to experience – grasp and know – this love.

God’s promise to strengthen us at the core is part of his plan to enable us to fully receive his love. How have you already experienced God’s love? What aspects do you long to experience? What parts of your heart, mind and soul would need to be strengthened in order to receive the love of God?

God is able to do, “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” In what situation are you waiting for God to work? Take a moment to imagine what more would look like. How does it feel to release the plan and outcomes into his care?

Leave this time trusting that the Spirit will root and establish you in God’s love.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Pain of Misalignment: God and the Disordered Body

The statement on the website shouted loudly and clearly what many people instinctively know if they let themselves notice it: The Key to Relieving Pain Is Fixing Our Misalignment.

I was visiting a website that sells therapeutic insoles for people with aching feet. The promises of pain relief were backed up by “Science” and a compelling founder’s story from a man who just wanted his little boy to be able to play and run with his friends again. Most insoles give you cushioning, the site explained. But these insoles realign your ankles, counteracting the chain reaction that occurs when your ankles are misaligned. When your ankles are misaligned, your knees, hips, lower and upper back, and neck are all thrown out of alignment too. Align your ankles, though, and the other joints are restored to proper positioning.

The Key to Relieving Pain is Fixing Our Misalignment.

Look around, and you will find pain everywhere. An announcement goes out from a friend on social media who has just had five siblings placed in her foster home: clothing, car seats, basic toys are needed. What pain preceded the moment they arrived on her doorstep, children walking into a stranger’s home?

A regional newspaper announces a workshop on how to administer Narcan, a drug that can halt an opioid overdose, potentially saving the life of an unconscious drug addict. Deaths have skyrocketed, and people beyond EMTs and first responders are learning how to stock and use the medication.

There is, Mother Teresa said, a poverty of love. “The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

We think we do not love each other enough. In part, we are right. Why can we not welcome each other? How has the tone of our words become so strained, sudden, explosive? Most people in North America do not buy a semiautomatic rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and drive to a nightclub to shoot and kill people; but our words are high-caliber. Accusations are unloaded, pop, pop, pop. We hear someone’s words and take aim at their character instead of their reasoning, like a trainee on a shooting course who pulls the trigger at a pop-up of a civilian instead of a combatant.

We need love, we think. We need more love. We need to be more loving as people, toward other people. But this is like saying that we need more cushioning; we need more support. And while we do need more cushioning, the key to relieving pain is fixing our misalignment. Because we are not only impoverished in love; our loves are disordered, out of alignment. We can attempt to cushion them as much as we want; only realigning misplaced joints will relieve the pain, though.

There is misalignment in all our lives. Over a millenium and a half ago, a North African Christian thinker named Augustine diagnosed the nature of human disorder by thoroughly handling our propensity for disordered loves. The essence of virtue, wrote Augustine, is rightly ordered love. For Augustine, the problem is not that we don’t love each other enough; it is that we don’t love God enough:

“But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.”

Centuries later, C.S. Lewis parsed this out: “You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.” Cushion the stride as much as you want: beginning with love for others does not address the fundamental misalignment. The right ordering of loves is essential for an aligned Body.

But you cannot love whom you cannot know.

To love means to know: not to know comprehensively – what finite mortal can comprehend God – but to know truly, truthfully, in reality, even if it is a tiny sliver of reality. If God is so transcendent as to be genuinely unknowable, then we cannot love God: God is too other to interact with. If God is so imminent as to be the same as all created matter, then we cannot love God: God is as finite as a summer dandelion. If all is only mystery, or if all is accessible and comprehensible, then we have the same problem: a God unknowable, or a God not worth knowing.

John 1 throws open a window on the Great Realigning. The universe was created in alignment, we read. But it did not recognize the one who created it, through the depth of its own injurious misalignment.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

A God we can know is a God we can love. In loving God as the highest, greatest good, as Augustine would say, we find alignment: here, there is relief from pain. Here, where the sequence is adjusted. Here, the alignment of creation stands in sound wholeness. Here, we can now love our fellow-creature fully: because we love the Creator first. Our joints are rightly ordered, and our stride is sure and strong.

But what mercy is there in observing someone with a dislocated shoulder and offering ice for the rest of their lives? The agony of being out of socket is considerable. The arm is useless. The pain is blinding. We can place a cushion behind the joint that is out of socket, but we know that ultimately the key to relieving pain is fixing the misalignment. The short-term gasp of agony at resetting a dislocated shoulder is a mercy compared to the long-term pain and loss of use.

The right ordering of what has been out of alignment, dislocated, or out of whack is strange and painful at first. We have become accustomed to low-level pain that slowly increased until more and more energy was spent ignoring it; there is disequilibrium in the corrected stride. Proper alignment feels odd when we had learned to cope around dysfunction.

There was a time in my twenties when I attempted to jog around an indoor track while holding my then-boyfriend’s hand, a sweet but silly attempt. It became more challenging as I became aware that he was limping from a knee strain, and the limp made it impossible to match his uneven stride. If I continued to hold his hand, in order to match strides and not have our arms bang into each other, I had to adopt a limping stride too – but that was not good for my own legs. If we wanted to jog while holding hands, our strides would have to match; I would have to adopt the dysfunction of his knee, or else continue to abruptly bump into each other. Needless to say, we stopped the attempt at holding hands: our strides could not align unless I adopted an unhealthy one to match his injury.

We know there is misalignment in our world; everywhere we look, we see pain.

Where, today, is there misalignment in the Body of Christ? Where is the Body exhibiting a limp? What misalignment in an ankle is sending a cascade of disorder through the whole?

Each tradition must answer for itself; across the Body of Christ around the world, there are places of solid health and wholeness, and there are places of systemic dysfunction and injury. Places where limps were being concealed have been revealed in spectacular dismay, like a runner whose hamstring snaps in front of millions.

Christians believe that we cannot fix our misalignment ourselves, as much as we humans like to try to grit our teeth and force a bulging shoulder back into socket. We believe that rightly ordered love only results from God first loving us and making the heart of the Trinity known to us through Christ, the Word Made Flesh. We believe that the power of the Holy Spirit aligns our unstable hearts that are “bent toward sinning” – “prone to wander, Lord I feel it – prone to leave the God I love.” We believe that in Christ, we find the great aligner, who can reset what is out of joint in our lives, in our world, in our universe. There is pain in the reset, but peace in our steps as we look forward to a day when entropy – decline into disorder – is halted, and sound wholeness prevails.

“But, speaking the truth in love, may [we] grow up in all things into him who is the head—Christ—  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God…”

Gently, the Apostle Paul says, disentangle yourselves from a stride which causes you to limp. The Body of Christ is not meant to adopt misalignment or to be a means of dysfunction in a world of entropy: rather, it is meant to grow up in all things into Christ, by whom the whole body causes growth when joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.

Christ, in your mercy, fix our misalignment; Christ, in your mercy, fix our misalignment, order our loves by centering our hearts on you, and relieve our pain.

Featured image: Sketch of a Foot, Vincent van Gogh

Priscilla Hammond ~ Living a Life of Advent Light: When a Wreath Is More Than a Wreath

Many churches are currently setting up Advent wreaths to mark the weeks leading up to Christmas. The four candles that encircle the wreath illuminate the area around them as they point toward the center candle. Those outer candles relate to prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels, while the center candle alludes to Christ.

The prophecy candle represents the expectation of the coming Messiah and the hope of salvation.  The Bethlehem (manger) candle represents love, the shepherds represent joy, the angels represent peace, all pointing to the middle Christ candle, which represents purity.

We read the Scripture and light the candles each year. However, what if we see the Advent wreath as not just a representation of the Christmas season, but of our active faith? What if Advent is a time to remind us not just of the historical actors in the Christmas drama but also of our ongoing response to Christ?

The prophetic message of hope is needed today

Skepticism seems to be the modus operandi of our socially mediated culture. Disbelief, distrust, doubt, and despair fill our newsfeeds. These are the opposite of hope. During this season of Advent, what if we choose to display hope in our communications? What if we embody the prophetic promise of Isaiah 43:19, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” and looked for hope in the world? What if, instead of seeing a valley of dry bones, we have the prophetically hopeful eyes of Ezekiel? What if our ministry to our community focuses on being a ministry of hope?

Love is the gift we celebrate at Christmas

If you’ve attended a sporting event, you’ve probably seen John 3:16 on a placard in the stands. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It’s a popular verse, but a fan-filled arena wasn’t the original context. This verse was the response of Jesus to Nicodemus, who saw God in Jesus (John 3:2). Jesus didn’t go around yelling at people about God outside of their context; He shone God’s love into their contexts. If I communicate hope, but do it without love, I’m just making noise (1 Cor. 13).

Love is what we have that causes someone to ask what we have and how we came to have it. We don’t need to bang a gong; we just need to let the light of Love shine. The prophetic word of the coming Christ is delivered through a man-made manger—that is the incarnation of love into our context. What if our celebration of Christmas focuses on loving our neighbors and our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48) wherever they are, not just asking them to join a bunch of Jesus fans in an arena?

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where!?)

Imagine the shepherds, biding their time in the fields, hanging with the sheep, doing what shepherds do, when suddenly, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:9). Joy does not seem like the right word for that moment. The shepherds might have sung “I’ve got the fear, fear, fear, fear, down in my gut.” But they were told the good news that joy was on the way—a joy that came from the hope that love was awaiting them. This prevenient grace of God went out and let people know that hope, love, and joy was there for them. They didn’t hear about it in church; they received word while they were working and hanging out. When Jesus gave the disciples (us) our commission, he said, “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19a). That word, go, means to pursue the journey you’ve already started. On the first Christmas, the truth was shone into the place where the people were working and hanging out. What if we choose joy and spread the prevenient grace of God while we are on our journeys in our communities, workplaces, and relationships?

Not that kind of peace

When Jesus was born, the angels declared, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14); however, during his ministry Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth” (Matt. 10:34a). It’s the same word in both places, so did he change his mind? Or do we expect the wrong kind of peace? At the end of his life, he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27a). We will always live in the midst of chaos, but we can receive peace, and we can give peace to others. Peace with God is received when we engage in the hope, love, and joy of the Christmas event. We will enjoy peace in our hearts, out of which peace with others can be possible. What if we can pass the peace of Christ in the chaos of our world?

Constructive interference

The Advent wreath uses light to symbolize the Christmas event. Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12), and when we believe in him, we become “children of the light” (John 12:36). When light waves meet, constructive interference occurs and the two waves reinforce one another. These wavelengths combine to produce a super light wave.

As we embrace hope, love, joy, and peace, we reinforce the message of Christmas, and his light is multiplied into the world. What if Christians unite as the church, illuminating the world around us as we point toward the Christ?

Carolyn Moore ~ One Thing God Said Was Not Good

Over the last 75 years, researchers at Harvard have tracked the lives of 724 men.* These men were children when the study began. For 75 years, they’ve been tracking these lives to record the state of their home life, work, health, outlook.

Some men in the study became rich and famous. One became President of the United States. Others fared poorly. Boiling all this time, life and data down to its most basic lesson, this is what Robert Waldinger (current director of the study) labels the clearest message to emerge from this effort: “The message has nothing to do with fame or wealth or working harder. The real lesson from these lives is this: ‘Good relationships keep us happier and healthier … Over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.”

It took 75 years and 724 men to prove Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  

Seven times in the creation story, God makes things and calls them good. The seas are good. The sun and moon are good. The plants and fish and animals are good. People are good. But then after seven scenes of goodness, God finds a flaw — one thing that isn’t quite right.

It is not good that the man should be alone.

This isn’t God adjusting a piece of furniture to get the right effect. This is God instilling in the pinnacle of his creation his most essential quality. He is a God who loves, even within himself.

God has infused his creation with his own personality. Creation will not be defined by independence. It will not be one toddler saying to the universe, “I can do it myself.” Creation will be defined by the same love that defines the Trinity. The first creation story in Genesis emphasizes the partnership between a man and a woman. The second creation story emphasizes the man’s need for relationship.

God’s brand of love only happens in community. It is the pre-fall answer to the sin of autonomous solitude — the state of believing I am all I need. Solitude is not good when solitude leads us to believe that one person alone — without community — can somehow image the God who created us.This is not good.

We are not islands unto ourselves.

This is why we join churches and go to movie theaters and happily pay $4 at Starbucks for coffee that costs less than ten cents to make at home. It is because we are designed for relationship. We are made for community, because we are made in the image of God.

And this is why the enemy of our souls would like to attract us into solitude with things like porn and video games. The enemy of our souls is working against our design. Likewise, the enemy would prefer that we view marriage as a tool primarily for fulfilling our own needs. This popular view saps the glory out of it. It fails to point to something beyond itself. Marriage is not designed primarily to get my sexual needs fulfilled. When we reduce it to a mechanical solution that meets a primal need, we miss it … completely.

Here is the real shame of what our culture has done to marriage. It isn’t that we’ve made it disposable or that we’ve made too much of the wedding and not enough of the relationship.  The real shame for the Church is that we’ve failed to teach the rich and relationship-rooting theology beneath it. We have focused more on mechanics or “chain of command” than on submission to something bigger than us. A covenantal marriage paints a picture of the love between Christ and his Church and of the covenant between God and his people. Marriage tells the Easter story — Jesus lays down his life for us — and marriage points to the glorious conclusion of the creation story, when all things will find their fulfillment not in getting our needs met cheaply but in the rich-beyond-measure love, cover and hope of a good and faithful God.


* “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” is a TED talk. Watch here.

Michelle Bauer ~ Learning to Love

And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.  ~ I Corinthians 13: 1-8a


What is your definition of love? How has this definition changed through the different seasons of your life? I John 4:8 tells us that, “God is love.” How does this truth fit with your definition of love?

What is the most annoying noise you can imagine? That’s how verse one describes people who have amazing spiritual gifts but haven’t learned how to love. Do you know anyone like this?

Verse two of this passage says that being loving ranks higher than some other pretty important things. What are they? What damage can be done if people exercise their spiritual gifts without love? Have you ever been the victim of this kind of person?

What, besides love, can motivate someone to give to the poor or sacrifice themselves? Take a moment to examine your motives and ask God to make them pure.

In what situations is it easy for you to love? In what situations do you struggle to love? What makes a person hard or easy to love?

Who loves you well? How do you know this person loves you? Take a few minutes to write this person a note, email or text thanking them for their love.

Who in your life would you like to love better? What keeps you from loving them well? What would need to change in you in order to love them well? Ask God to give you his love for this person.


Leave this quiet time in peace knowing that you are loved by God.

Cole Bodkin ~ How the Questions of Jesus Can Shape Your Year: What You Love

What sort of questions does the Resurrected Jesus ask?

We’ve already seen that before the crucifixion, Jesus liked asking a question multiple times in different scenarios. In many cases we see his dialogues often contain a rapid succession of questions. In the final chapter of John we see the resurrected Jesus posing the same question multiple times to an old friend.

 “Do you love me more than these?”

What a painful question to receive, but what an important one, too. Whenever a person is asked this, there is usually some heartbreak involved, or some sense in which trust is in question or betrayal has occurred. Peter responds matter-of-factly, or possibly nonchalantly, “Yes Lord; You know that I love you.”

Jesus replies, “Tend my lambs.”

But maybe it isn’t sinking in yet, so Jesus asks again.

Do you love me?

At this point perhaps Peter is a little confused (Did you not hear me the first time?), frustrated (Jesus, did I stutter?) or even getting a little nervous (What’s going on?). Again Peter responds, “Yes Lord; You know that I love you.”

He hears a similar response from Jesus: “Shepherd my sheep.”

Maybe the disciples sit for a little bit and take a few nibbles of fish, in silence, warming up by the fire. The smoke makes its way up Peter’s nostrils and suddenly jogs his memory of being questioned about his relationship to Jesus by the fire in the courtyard (“No way! I don’t know that guy!”).

Then the dagger comes that brings the big man to grief.

Do you love me?

Three times Peter denied Jesus in front of others. Now, three times Jesus asks if Peter actually loves him. The pain of failure returns as Peter is faced with a question of allegiance. Sheepishly, Peter mutters in despair and despondence: “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

One last time, Jesus charges Peter, “Tend my sheep.”

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Peter has been around long enough to know what it means to love Jesus. It involves abiding in, remaining in his love.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (14:15).

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (14:21)

“Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (14:23-24)

“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (15:9-11).

It’s interesting that Peter doesn’t reciprocate the love language that Jesus uses. Jesus employs the rugged, covenantal commitment kind of love (agape), whereas Peter seems to only bring himself to use the brotherly kind of love (phileo). Yet, Jesus with this test meets Peter in his current state, and—despite it all—accepts, restores, and continues to implore him to, “feed my sheep.” In some ways, it resembles the end of Matthew’s Gospel. The resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples on the mountaintop and some still doubted. Nevertheless, Jesus still charges them to embark on the Great Commission.

When you’ve failed Jesus, denied him, or not lived up to what you’ve been called, take hope that Jesus doesn’t give up on you and still has a job for you to do.

So, where is Jesus leading you in 2018?

What questions do you need to hear?

What are you looking for?

What does your love for Jesus look like?

Jeff Rudy ~ Inseparable

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

~ Romans 8:31-39 


One of the more popular Scriptures read at weddings is the love chapter – 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind…” This Romans passage is more familiar in the setting of funerals and memorial services – appropriately so, given its conclusion that even death can’t separate us from God’s love. But as I read through this passage again and again, I was drawn toward this language of inseparability when Paul speaks of God’s love for us. John Wesley considered love to be God’s reigning attribute. Compare what Paul speaks of here with what we use in celebrations of the marriage covenant. Maybe this ought to be the chapter we refer to as the love chapter.  

Things in life threaten to separate us from God, from one another, from creation, and even from our own identity and calling. Paul lays down the gauntlet of these threats here. Weakness and suffering, unspeakable pain and brokenness that leave others incapable of saying anything that will make it better. The Spirit intercedes with sighs, with groans too deep for words. Sometimes when I look at the brokenness of our world, the walls of separation and anger that we build against one another, the senseless suffering, unspeakable evil, global threats…all I can do is groan.  

But even in less newsworthy moments of life, experiences of separation are part of what it is to be human. Every choice we make necessarily separates us from some other option, some other path. It’s not always related to choices, either. As we grow up, we part ways, or separate, from the stage of life we were previously in. Naturally these transitions have some element of grief and loss, though we may show our emotions differently depending on the circumstance and our own coping mechanisms. But finally, though, there is the sorrow and grief we experience when we are separated from our loved ones by death.  

By acknowledging those moments when there are no words, God can speak good news of his commitment to us; Paul spells out what looks like God’s marriage vow to us. It’s a promise that says that God is working all things together for our good. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s all well and good at the moment. Paul knew that as well as anyone. And to be sure that the Christians in Rome didn’t get discouraged, Paul spoke of those cosmic powers that cause separation and affirms again and again and again that whatever these things separate us from, they do not and cannot separate us from God’s love.  

The list of things that threaten to separate us from God goes on. Hardship…life is hard. “The Struggle is Real.” What hardships have you faced? Economic? Health challenges or illness? Difficulties in relationships? Overcoming an addiction? Facing a system that is unwilling to bend or adapt? Say it out loud: Life. Is. Hard. And the reality is that hardships separate us from a sense of security and certainty. But, Paul retorts, they cannot separate us from the love of Christ.  

Distress? We exhaust every resource we have and it’s still not enough; we go from the generalized anxiety that many of us face to the more acute moments of a debilitating panic attack. It’s a helpless feeling and it feels like the world is crashing in on you. Stress and anxiety separate us from being in control or even poised and can completely immobilize us. But it cannot separate us from the love of Christ. 

Persecution? There is real persecution in the world – violence done to women and men and children, persecution and imprisonment for simply identifying with Jesus…or with another leader or religion, depending on where you are. Persecution is how worldly forces separate “us” from “them”but whatever persecution there might be, however it might separate you from a loved one, it will not separate you from the love of Christ.  

The list goes on…Famine separates from nourishment and daily bread. Nakedness, a shaming mechanism in the ancient world, separates from the warmth of clothing and shelter and comfort and a sense of belonging. Danger separates from safety and health and exposes vulnerable humans. And Paul concludes with the sword, the very purpose of which is to separate, to break apart members of the body from one another. Yet these things, however they might separate us in powerful ways, cannot separate us from the love of Christ.  

To this point, God’s vow of love sounds a lot like ours in weddings: …to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish…In weakness and suffering, in hardship and distress…None of that will separate us from God’s love. But then comes a new level.  

For our part in weddings, we say “…until we are parted by death.” In God’s commitment, however, as Paul affirms, even those things not covered in our marriage vows – the powers, angels, “anything else in all creation,” life, even death, which can separate us from a loved one, will not separate us from God’s love. You see, the point is that when God in love bound himself to us, it meant he would not ever let go; not even death can keep its grip over God’s love for us in Christ.  

The blessing at our weddings says, “what God has joined together, let no one separate.” The blessing of God’s vow to us says, “God has joined us to himself in love, let no one or no thing separate.” 

Reflecting on the entirety of Romans 8, I return back to how it started. I wonder if what we think would separate us from God’s love more than anything is ourselves – our guilt, our past, our shame, our unworthiness. Some of you may not struggle with this, but many of you have gone through times…perhaps even right now…when you feel unlovable. It’s impossible on our own to escape that feeling. I affirm, though, that just because you might feel unlovable, doesn’t mean that you are. I believe, as Michael W. Smith wrote so simply and beautifully, that we have “Never Been Unloved”: 


I have been unfaithful; I have been unworthy
I have been unrighteous; And I have been unmerciful
I have been unreachable; I have been unteachable
I have been unwilling; And I’ve been undesirable
And sometimes I have been unwise; I’ve been undone by what I’m unsure of

But because of you and all that you went through
I know that I have never been unloved
I have been unbroken; I have been unmended
I have been uneasy; And I’ve been unapproachable
I’ve been unemotional; I’ve been unexceptional
I’ve been undecided; And I have been unqualified
Unaware – I have been unfair; I’ve been unfit for blessings from above

But even I can see; The sacrifice You made for me
To show that I have never been unloved

Friends, there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God. You have never been and you will never be unloved. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Matt Hook ~ A Dialogue Sermon on Fear, Love, and Anxiety: The Heartbeat of God

Note from the Editor: What do you fear? This dialogue sermon between Dr. Matt Hook, a pastor, and Dr. Marty Fletcher, a mental health practitioner, delves into the psychology of fear and anxiety through the lens of the scriptural text, “perfect love casts out fear.” This proactive dialogue on anxiety, panic, and mental health took place in a congregational setting as part of Sunday morning worship. 

This sermon starts around minute marker 1:30.